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More Isn’t Better

Karl Rove thinks there are too many cooks in the White House kitchen. (There actually are, just to highlight his point.) He writes:

Aides say Mr. Obama believes the cabinet structure is “outdated.” His appointment of czars to oversee technology, automotive and environmental policies underscores this belief because each new czar weakens cabinet and agency involvement in policy decisions. The White House has always had overlapping lines of authority, which creates a certain amount of conflict while everyone figures out who really has clout. But Mr. Obama has added to the confusion by making declarations that multiple people in his cabinet or on his staff have more authority and responsibility than their predecessors. In addition to creating a protracted power struggle within the West Wing, Mr. Obama’s management decisions may lead to more intrusive, larger government policies gaining traction. Why? Because left-leaning aides will be unimpeded by the White House’s budget director or cabinet secretaries as they push new policies.

It is rumored that as many as 160 people will be in the West Wing under Mr. Obama. Under President George W. Bush there were about 60.

His concern is  conflicting lines of authority, bigger government, endless power struggles, and confusion.

And Rove doesn’t even mention the national security realm. Not only do we have the usual line-up of Secretaries of State and Defense, UN Ambassador and National Security Advisor, but Obama has thrown in George Mitchell, Dennis Ross and Richard Holbrooke. Who precisely do members of the latter trio report to — the President or the Secretary of State? Then there is the administration’s busy body Joe Biden who fancies himself as the chief foreign policy guru. One wonders how in practice this will work and if the inevitable result of all these voices won’t be endless rounds of consultation (and in-fighting leaks).

That leaves open the question as to why the President has chosen to surround himself with so many bodies. The MSM, which is short on people with actual management or government experience, laps up this sort of thing. He’s inclusive, they coo. He’s likes strong opinions, they suggest. Perhaps, but all of that overlooks the reality that the more voices you have the more conflict you have and the less swift your decision making process will be.

It may give a false sense of comfort to those still a bit nervous about the neophyte President that he has “surrounded himself with smart people.” But that is false comfort, indeed. The idea that consensus will emerge with double or triple the number of advisors or that more people make for better decisions is belied by anyone’s experience in a large organization.

And of course, no matter how many people you stuff into the West Wing, the big and important decisions still rest with the President. If he’s determined to grovel before the Arab world on TV,  he’s unlikely to be dissuaded by three or thirty advisors. If he has faith in the economic sophistication and bipartisan spirit of Nancy Pelosi, it doesn’t matter how many staff meetings he holds or how late they work.

There is no substitute for clear presidential judgment and vision. Swamping the White House with ambitious aides won’t do the trick. But it could make that judgment and vision much harder to refine and implement.


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